Anxiety Experts Conquer Teignbridge!

Change happens when work is co-created with experts by experience. So we were delighted this winter to be approached by Teignbridge Council for Voluntary Service about setting up community groups to address anxiety post-COVID.

Blankets, journals, and other items to borrow await members of the first group.

Based on a successful pilot by Roots Community Enhancement in Dawlish, we took up the reins to offer groups in Newton Abbot and Teignmouth. Rather than a standard drop-in, or a course, we took a peer-led approach. We recognise that people who have lived with anxiety long-term are truly experts with their own coping strategies. Some of these strategies are helpful, some not so much. Sharing them with peers leads to new discoveries, connections, and learning.

Our Community Development Manager, Em Flint, led groups of 10 folk from local wellbeing charities Kingscare League of Friends in Newton Abbot, and Teignmouth’s Volunteering in Health. Each group took on its own character and aims. Newton Abbot called themselves “Anxiety Explorers,” setting out to “conquer the mountain” together. Teignmouth’s lovely setting of the Cliffden Hotel inspired their name of the “Quiet Lounge.”

Over six weeks, participants were invited to recognise how anxiety shows up first in their bodies, then their thoughts, then their behaviours. A little bit of book learning on human biology and behaviour was included; what really made the difference, though, was a safe space to share the challenges and the wins of living with anxiety long term. Teignmouth’s group developed the idea of a “web of support” to open each session. Rather than the creeping anxiety of “going around the circle” to check in, a ball of wool was thrown around the room from person to person. Each person held on to the wool as the web grew. Once everyone had had a chance to speak, we closed our eyes and gently pulled on the threads to feel the support of the group all around us.

Having something to “hold on to” can make a big difference when anxiety takes hold. Some funding was used for objects for participants to take home: blankets, journals, and fidget spinners were big favourites. Newton Abbot’s group even came up with the idea of an “anxiety lending library” with a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) UV lamp, weighted blankets, aromatherapy diffuser and Shakti mats for people to try at home before making a purchase themselves.

“Paying it forward” to future groups became important to everyone as their confidence grew. Writing letters and notes to future groups helped keep the connection going. As the weeks went by, people shared their own strategies and be amazed to find others hadn’t heard of them. From practical things like vitamin D supplements in the winter, through app, book, and movie recommendations, to more unusual approaches of crystal collecting and cold water immersion… if it helped someone, we wanted to hear about it! Best of all, firm friendships were made, continuing to meet up after the facilitated sessions.

Photos and messages from the two groups

Funding for these groups is coming to an end soon, but Teignbridge CVS’s emerging findings are that this peer-led approach is not only helpful to the people who take part, but badly needed by communities struggling to source non-crisis support. Kingscare applied to our Recovery Development Fund to run one more on their own this summer. We hope other community partners will find the funds to do the same. In the meantime, we are gathering all our experts’ learnings into a booklet to share as an anxiety management resource ready for the coming winter.

Thank you to all our anxiety experts for sharing your experiences with us. Huge thank you to Teignbridge CVS for their funding, and to the staff and volunteers of Kingscare and Volunteering in Health for their support.

Some comments from our Anxiety Experts…

“This is the best group I’ve been to.

We’re all from different backgrounds but all have the same anxieties in common”

“I always used to think, what if that happens? And it would always be something bad. I’ve changed it to what if something good happened?”

“Remember to pat yourself on the back when you make small, forward steps… remember, always be kind to YOU”

“We are all different and holding hands together helps, so come and see how far you can grow… I tell you, have a go and don’t look back!”